At First I Thought… But Now I Know…

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Who am I? I am a white woman, wife, aunt, educator, writer, reader, fitness instructor, runner, and… the list goes on. Yet today I want to focus on one aspect. I am a white woman and until recently I didn’t realize how much being white has clouded my view of the world. And I say this as a woman who is married to a black man and has many friends of different ethnicities. I also say this being someone who has studied “whiteness” in education; critically reviewed my own work for racial bias; had implicit bias training; advocates for equity in the school system; and more. I am as Dolly Chugh would say, a believer. I have a lot of knowledge base about my whiteness and it has influenced my thinking yet until recently reading Chugh’s book: How to Fight Bias- The Person You Mean to Be, attending the undoing racism workshop and the work we have been doing with the Noblesville Diversity Coalition, I am finally starting to understand how to become a “builder” and take action. There is so much I could write and I will write yet first must say that I am being vulnerable right now. I know everything I say in this blog will not be “right” but it is my attempt at being “good-ish” (thanks for this terminology Dolly) and knowing that it’s better to try (to start putting my thoughts out there) than it is to do nothing. So, after reflecting on ideas that have been swirling around in my head here are a few “at first I thought but now I know entries…”

At first I thought I was not racist but now I know that I am a part of a system that perpetuates racism. This is not something that I asked for yet it is a reality. In the beginning, we identified by culture. There was no “black or white or brown” – difference between people was acknowledged in various laws in the 1600’s and in the late 1600’s the classification of “white” came about. From there, our system continues to oppress people of color and sadly I am part of that system.

At first I thought I learned about history in school but now I know that I had learned a narrow perspective of history – the one that makes America great – one we can celebrate. Yet, knowing that Columbus coming over and taking the land of the Native Americans and killing them does not give me pride in celebrating a holiday for him – so I don’t. Knowing that there are many narratives that I do not know but want to know has encouraged me to expand my readings to learn more and share more. Looking forward to reading Lies My Teacher Told Me by James Loewen and A People’s History of the United States along with A Young People’s History of the United States, both by Howard Zinn.

At first I thought that classism was equally troublesome as racism, yet now I know that racism is the acid that continues to corrode what America could be. Having experienced situational poverty and other adversity in life, I often feel as though I understand “the struggle” yet even my struggle has a “leg up” on others due to my white privilege. Yes, life is hard sometimes yet I can go places and not be followed. I’m not worried about not getting a job because I’m white. I’m not thinking about the cops pulling me over. There are so many luxuries that I inherited just because of the color of my skin (if you are not familiar with White Privilege, read Peggy McIntosh’s article, White Privilege: Unpacking the Knapsack). So, racism is an oppressor that then grows even more deep when other “isms” interconnect with racism.

At first I thought I was being an ally, but now I know to be an ally I need to learn more and do more. I need to be willing to listen to hear; be more aware of my actions and others in being inclusive; be supportive; and be willing to confront others when they say something. The system and culture is in place yet we have the power to look at what is in place and change it with our language. We have the power to show others within the various systems we operate what is acceptable and what is not. We have the power to make a difference. When Cornelius Minor spoke this summer at our CLC Summer Institute and challenged us to think about one small thing we do not like about the system, study it, do something about it, and reflect he helped many see, including myself, that we can start small and make a difference.

At first I though I could help “save” others (another faux pas of being white and in savior mode) yet now I know it’s not about saving the individual it’s about coming together to transform the system. I had a professor once that said, “You know that poem about saving the starfish. Yes, how great it is to save the starfish one-by-one but if you really want to make life better for the ocean you have to change the ocean.” Therefore, it is our system that needs work and we all have a moral responsibility as a part of this system to realize that we can influence it.

This is not perfect. This is where my thinking is now. I believe strongly in equity and realize that in order to become a builder I need to be willing to learn, grow, make mistakes, and lean on others. I also know that I need to speak up more in situations when someone says something that may be offensive or oppressive. I’m learning words to use in order to be more brave in this work. Finally, our words matter. I say this all the time, yet our words create our worlds (just saw this on a chart recently) and therefore, just changing the language of the system – the words we use and the way we talk with one another can be the impetus for transformation of culture. Semantics truly matters.

References:

Chugh, Dolly. 2018. How good people fight bias. The person you mean to be. Harper Collins Publishers. New York.

Loewen, James W. 2007. Lies my teacher told me: Everything your American history textbook got wrong. Touchstone. New York.

McIntosh, Peggy. 1989. White Privilege: Unpacking the invisible knapsack. Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom.

Zinn, Howard. (2007). A young people’s history of the United States. Harper Collins Publishers. New York.

Zinn, Howard. (2003). A people’s history of the United States. Seven Stories Press. New York.

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